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UW Trace center makes sending packages accessible to all

Madison, Wis. — Accessibility technology developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Trace Research and Development Center will help people use the United States Postal Service’s automated postal centers to send packages this December.

“The goal of our work was to find a simple way of extending and supplementing the interface that was there that would work across disabilities,” said Gregg Vanderheiden, the director of the Trace center.

The researchers’ work, called EZ Access, added just a few features to the Postal Service’s centers in order to make them more accessible to everyone, including people with various disabilities. An included keypad has buttons that are more easily visible to people with poor vision and easy to use for those who could not otherwise make fine enough movements. An adjustment in the kiosks’ layout allows those who, due to wheelchairs or other limitations, have limited reach.

The addition of audio prompts, through a headphone jack, further increases accessibility. Voice output allows those who cannot see or read at all, those with dyslexia or poor vision, and those who are new to English to use the postal centers without staff assistance.

“People who are blind ... need to know that they can use it, because most people who are blind assume that they won’t be able to,” Vanderheiden said. “We’ve installed headphone jacks that protrude out, so that when they plug the headphones in, they immediately get the cues as to what to do, and then they can use the keys.”
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The EZ Access technology has been included in the Postal Service’s APCs in accordance with an amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which required all federal agencies to make their technology accessible to people with disabilities. Vanderheiden said that the Postal Service has always tried to provide options that are accessible to all users, but Section 508 has provided added incentive.

Because the Trace Center is one of the only groups to offer technology that provides “cross-disability accessibility,” its EZ Access was the only option considered.

“The EZ Access is a result of years of research toward finding ways to build accessibility naturally into a product,” Vanderheiden said. “By naturally, we mean that when you walk up to a product, the things that you would naturally do if you were having trouble are incorporated in so that you will be able to access it and use it [with] zero instruction. ... There are many people working on how to make products more accessible, but this is really the only described technique for letting it work across the board.”

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